Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Ethical Butcher

Followers of this blog/my life in general know that I've (in fits and starts) created a personal food culture/philosophy based on books, blogs, movies, personal experience, and how I grew up. I generally stick to only a few food guidelines: real food trumps all non foods (that means I use butter, not margarine) and always check ingredient lists (if I can't pronounce it, it's probably not food). Michael Pollan elaborates on these guidelines--as do many other farmers, chefs, and food activists, the most recent on my radar being Berlin Reed with his book (based on a former blog by the same name) The Ethical Butcher.

If I don't seek out and read books like these, I grow lazy in my quest to eat real food. I cheat with boxed/processed non foods or grab whatever is on the shelves at the grocery store regardless of labels. I feel bad, but not bad enough, until I remember why I started researching, learning, and changing my ways in the first place: if I am to be fully myself, a citizen of the world, I have to let my actions and my dollars show what I believe in/support/want for my life. I can't be frustrated at the rates of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes in America and then calmly eat my mac'n'cheese knowing full well that my teenage boy metabolism will take care of the extra fat and sodium for me personally, screw everyone else. Even knowing my one small change of grass fed over grain fed beef won't make a tangible difference, how can I say I support local/humane/truly-happy-cow farmers if my support is only in word and not in action?

I hesitated to write this post because I knew I would digress and get soapboxy instead of simply reviewing the book for what it is: one man's personal narrative of how he went from vegetarian to vegan to whole animal butcher to activist/community chef/blogger/writer/food educator/thoughtful omnivore and how he envisions a world where people eat ethically as the norm. In the first half of the book, we get Reed's story. He is honest, yet unapologetic. He doesn't regret his "vegan" tattoo--that's who he was at that point in his life, and it led to where he is now. After telling us who he is, the second half of the book focuses on the reader. Do we know where our food comes from? Are we asking enough questions, demanding food quality from our grocers and butchers? Again, he is honest--finding good, capital F, healthy Food can be overwhelming. What do the labels "natural," "organic," "green," and "sustainable" really mean? He knows that all people can't and won't make all the changes needed to ensure food responsibility the world over, but he encourages his reader to do what they can, based on their abilities, needs, and personal philosophies.

Needless to say, I felt convicted after reading and have been researching local grocers, markets, CSAs, and where the most responsibly-sourced food is located in Chicago. I'm lucky to live in a rather hippie-esque neighborhood, so grassroots, community-based organizations aren't difficult to find. I'm also lucky that I can afford to splurge on happy meat, and that I know my way around a kitchen, so choosing produce over processed tends to be a non-choice for me. Now I need to maintain my philosophy and allow it to evolve with the food landscape in my neighborhood. And I need more people to read this book so we can have lively discussions about where to find good eats.

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